progress is not the elimination of struggle, but rather a change in its terms’ - Aneurin Bevan

Warning of #Pasokification, not yearning for it

People stop me in the street and they ask me how I wrote Pasokification.

Actually, they don't.

Most people have no idea what I’m banging on about, and those that do usually tell me to shut up about it.

Obviously, I refuse.

Since Syriza’s election victory there has been greater interest in a term I’ve been trying to popularise for a few years. I welcome David’s critique and, because it mentions me, I thought I’d respond.

Am I yearning for the Pasokification of Labour? No. Do I think it is inevitable or desirable? No. David has exempted me, in any case, but these questions are worth asking and answering.

No, Pasok isn't exactly like Labour – and yes Greece has a different position in Europe than Britain. But look what's happened to Labour in Scotland! #PaScotification, if you will. Labour was defeated in the Scottish parliament by an electoral formation positioning itself as social democratic.

Talk of Pasokification is not yearning for our party’s demise, it is a warning that implementing austerity will kill it.

It would have been desirable if Pasok had tried to survive as a party of government by opposing austerity in deeds as well as words. But it didn't, and consequently it no longer exists as a party of government.

It's an extreme example – but again, look at Scotland. Lining up with the bosses and bankers, and with your supposed political opponents, is not a winning formula for electoral success if there's a better offer. And if the polls are anything to go by, Labour could suffer defeats to the SNP even in its strongholds.

It would be desirable if a Labour government is elected in May and – having learned the lessons of its sister parties in Greece, Ireland, France, Spain and so – opposes austerity in deeds as well as words. Will it? I hope so. The Left Platform candidates seem to have learned the lesson and are speaking out against the capitulation of the parliamentary leadership.

Richard Seymour, the author of the excellent book Against Austerity, has shared with me this definition of the Pasokification process:

i) the absorption of social democracy into neoliberalism, with the resulting form known as 'social liberalism';‬‬
‪ii) the resulting secular breakdown of the party-base relationship, the loss of party identity and the fragmentation of the class base;‬‬‬‬‬‬‬
‪iii) the incorporation of 'social liberalism' into an austerity consensus, with the dramatic acceleration of these trends, culminating in a decisive breakdown of the party-base relationship and the effective end of the party as a party of government.‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

The mixture of social liberalism and social democracy in the New Labour years did deliver reforms – it was not “reformism without reforms”, but it was the case that moderates in the party’s leadership saw neoliberal “reforms” as desirable and inevitable. Tory anti-union laws were viewed by Blair as a good thing, Brown expressed his pride in the City – before it crashed.

Attempts to move on from this are hamstrung by the ascendant Progress faction. Before he became leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Jim Murphy was urging Labour to accept the cuts. Now he’s telling anyone who will listen that he's a socialist.

Instead of responding to claims Labour is “anti-business” by pointing out it is supposed to be the party of organised labour, not organised capital, Tristram Hunt says the party is “aggressively pro-business”. Ed Balls has reportedly told audiences in the City that, unlike his leader, he doesn't do “anti-City rhetoric”. Even Miliband talks about “responsible capitalism” without laughing.

The success of the Progress faction, in spite of their candidate losing the 2010 leadership contest, represents the victory of Labour’s conservatives over those within the party who have sought to democratise the party.

To avoid a Blairite coup, Ed Miliband has had to maintain a false unity with those around him who oppose his willingness to take on vested interests at the top of society – thus, he has struggled to present himself as an insurgent outsider.

The quote from Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks is appropriate here:

“At a certain point in their historical lives, social classes become detached from their traditional parties … The particular men who constitute, represent, and lead them, are no longer recognised by their class (or fraction of a class) as its expression.”

The immediate outcome of Pasokification is not a party like Syriza or Podemos, I accept. Pro-establishment but ostensibly anti-establishment parties like UKIP are more likely to thrive under an austerity Labour government.

But look at the membership growth of the Greens. The latest edition of Labour’s membership magazine One Nation includes no mention of the Greens in the Opposition Watch section.

Yet there will be more Green candidates than in the 2010 elections – and they will be claiming to be the party that Labour should be, but isn't. They will also be competing with Labour for those who voted LibDem in the past but are more Labour than Tory.

If the official response to the Greens is to stress the positioning and policies the Labour leadership have adopted, rather than attacking the Greens, this makes sense.

For if my circle of friends is anything to go by, a small number of Labour members are leaving and joining the Greens before a Labour government has been elected and before Labour’s parliamentary leadership has proposed its own austerity measures.

This “exitism” is not always consciously aimed at changing the Labour Party, but by joining with socialists already outside the party in the so-called Green surge, they are – in effect – trying to push the leadership of Labour to adopt more radical policies.

This is their best intention, they are not trying to “split the vote” or “let the Tories in”. Though, obviously, this could be the case in marginal seats. Still, telling people who have joined the Greens, or who are thinking of voting for them, that this could be the result of their actions is not going to win them over. It's like saying they are stupid. In politics, if you think someone is an idiot – you keep it to yourself.

In England, the “Green surge” has been compared to Bennism by some of my older comrades. There's something to be said for this comparison, and it is one shared by Labour’s conservatives who view the movement around Benn as a hindrance to Labour’s continued deference to ruling class interests.

My calls for patience have been in vain. If people do not think there is a means of expressing their voice, that loyalty is ineffective, then they will exit an organisation they are unhappy with. The party-base relationship is coming under pressure. Yet again: see Scotland.

So this isn't a loss of “middle class” yoghurt-weaving hippies in sandals. The RMT president Peter Pinkney is standing for the Greens in Redcar. I have met several active trade unionists in the North East of England who have joined the Greens because of their position on austerity, privatisation, and the anti-union laws.

Some will have the attitude – “let them go, if that's what they want. Why should we care if the fools work against us?” The answer to this is that they could have been working with us.

And there is no point socialists who are Labour members in England telling comrades outside of the party that “well, this is as good as it gets”. Rather, we have to emphasise the Left Platform candidates – socialists in the Greens, Left Unity, and TUSC, need to be made aware of the Left Platform candidates.

The next parliament must have a sizeable bloc of anti-austerity Labour MPs if the liquidation of the party is to be halted. This is not an argument which will win over those who have already exited the party, however.

If the broader labour movement reaches the conclusion that the party it founded cannot be maintained as a party of labour – if state funding of parties is brought in during the next parliament to break the link with organised workers, or if the parliamentary leadership of Labour continue the austerity programme started by the Tories and Liberals – then a sizeable bloc of anti-austerity Labour MPs will be crucial for continued working class representation.